Case study: Managing biosecurity risks
Mark Doyle, a veterinary officer with the Local Land Services in Bega, NSW, was one of the veterinarians on the ground in the aftermath of Black Summer, assessing burnt livestock and helping producers make decisions about animal welfare. “In the immediate aftermath of the fire season in 2019 and 2020, I visited hundreds of properties. I have also spent a lot of time helping fire-affected producers. I am still dealing with animal cases that have been affected by fire to some degree twenty months after the event. Being an invested member of my community means that this will go on for a while yet.”
Mark has seen biosecurity issues arise for a number of producers. Some came directly from damaged fencing and straying stock. “One was a small-scale farmer, who had not realised that a bull had access to her heifers in the immediate aftermath of the fires. They all had to have interventions like caesareans at the point of calving.”
Another major issue is infectious diseases, especially disease caused by Theileria, a blood parasite spread by ticks. “People saw all this grass growing and wanted to get a cheap deal, so brought cattle into an endemic Theileria area from a naïve population [in an area that doesn’t have that disease]. This was in an effort to build up their numbers quicky, but the reverse happened and there were some tragic cases of further loss of stock. As well as being tragic for the animals involved, it was devastating for the producers.”
Making sure paddocks are safe after fire is not always as simple as re-fencing. “I had another case of one producer trying to find local agistment for his heifers. Some kindly locals offered their farm which had been destocked since the fire. Little did anyone realise, but the fire had melted a long-forgotten lead battery under a lovely big shady tree in the paddock. Some of the animals died from lead poisoning, and we have been monitoring lead levels in all of the other stock that had access.”
While biosecurity disasters don’t happen to everyone, it’s important to consider the risk and do what you can to avoid a major problem. Mark offers three pieces of advice to fire-affected farms:
“Number one: think of what you’re bringing onto your farm in terms of disease. Pestivirus in cattle is an example; imagine buying a PI [persistently infected] animal if you’ve got a naïve herd.
“Number two: think of what you’re bringing those animals to. Locally we use the example of Theileria. What local diseases pose a risk when moving stock?
“Number three: think of what you’re putting in front of them. If you have animals that have never seen bracken fern and have a taste for it, you’ll be in trouble. If you have animals that happen to be camping under a tree with a bunch of lead sinkers there to chew on, you’ll be in trouble.”